Crisp fresh bread, flowers in full bloom, centuries-old archways, echoes of hymns; bustling streets filled with families out for the evening stroll, inviting ice cream parlors, and the sound of children's laughter: these are the things that captured me during my two weeks in southern Spain.
Our group of volunteers were housed throughout our stay in an old monastery, still inhabited by over twenty nuns. The grounds were beautiful, and they fed us like royalty! I enjoyed getting to know some of the sisters personally, and learned that many of them had immigrated to Spain from India--so Spanish was their second language as well!
Our group arrived on Friday, completed our training sessions over the weekend, and opened the camp Monday morning. It was held on a school campus within the Zaidin neighborhood, a home to many immigrant families from North Africa and Latin America. Altogether 36 children, aged 8-16, came to get experience the "redonkulous" fun of EXTREME English! :)
Each day during the week, after a breakfast of toast with jam or honey and hot coffee (accompanied by steamed milk) at the convent, we would hop on a city bus and head to the school. The camp day was split into several sessions, including an opening hour with music and skits, class time, snacks, crafts, and games, with a wrap-up that featured an entertaining review of the English campers had learned throughout the day...captained by our fearless leaders, the EXTREMEly talented cheerleader team, Jamie and Kelly. :)
After camp, we'd head back to the convent for Spain's biggest meal of the day, a mouth-watering lunch (usually served in at least 3 courses--steaming hot soup, usually with "mariscos" (seafood), then salad + a main dish (sometimes including papas fritas- a winning favorite with Americans :))-- and always topped off with a sweet dessert, often containing fresh, colorful fruit. After lunch, most of us welcomed a "when in Rome" stance and opted to take a siesta...later, once it cooled down outside, we were free to explore city & join up with the Granada team to try out some of the infamous tapa restaurants and schwarma shops.
Friday--the final day of camp--came all too quickly, and it was difficult to say goodbye to our campers. The children's smiles and giant hugs were all we needed to know that our goals had successfully been met--the campers had truly enjoyed themselves, and managed to learn quite a bit as well...and through it all, new relationships had been forged that will continue to grow and strengthen in the future. I look forward to hearing how the Granada team members build upon some of the foundation laid during camp!
Another highlight of the week was our team's visit to the Alhambra, an immense fortress built high up above Granada,that once was the home to the Moorish rulers in the height of their power in Spain. Filled with lush gardens, flowing fountains, and ornate Arab architectural designs, the Alhambra is one of the most beautiful places I've seen.
After our visit to the Alhambra, we (volunteers) gathered for a final lunch at the monastery, before saying our own goodbyes--some of the group was leaving for America, and the others were traveling on to N. Africa. Myself and one other team member had the privilege of spending one last evening in the monastery, and were invited to attend a special celebration mass the next morning in the attached church (in honor of the end of "El Camino de Santiago," a special pilgrimage that traces the journeys of the apostle James throughout ancient Spain, which had just recently ended. Our monastery, named after the apostle James, held a unique "hosting" role in the celebration! What a delight to watch and listen to our nuns, whom we'd come to know and love, lifting their voices to lead us in worship throughout the celebratory service.
After parting ways with the sisters (and promising to return to visit :) ) I made my way across the city to Jamie's house...and dove into a week of rest and refreshment (and gearing up for the days ahead). On her birthday, Jamie and I took a bus to nearby Nerja--and spent the day on a dazzling beach, enjoying the sparkly cool water and a spectacular view. Later on in the week, we returned to the gardens of the Alhambra to soak in an evening performance of flamenco music and dancing, infused with the poetry of the infamous Federico Garcia Lorca. We were swept away by the raw emotion of the music, and I was captivated by the thought that what came to life on stage seemed to speak into the soul of past, present, and even future Spain. It was a gloriously passionate and proud display of culture. I contemplated afterward how even this-- and perhaps better said, especially this--reveals a portion of the Father's heart, and his delight in the beautiful diversity of the children whom he's created. The evening was a perfect way to wrap up a fruitful and memorable stay in Spain...and an excellent transition into the next stage of cross-cultural living elsewhere.
CLICK on this LINK to check out PICTURES from the week!